Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Let Me Tell You About Saints Row: The Third

I am an unashamed fan of the Saints Row games, I talked about the second game in the series a little bit in a previous post. The third game is everything completely over the top about the second game, and more. Talking about the Saints Row games in any kind of intellectual fashion is always kind of hard, on account of the subject matter. Unlike the Grand Theft Auto games, you play as the psychopathic leader of a gang/organized crime ring called The Third Street Saints. The games managed to keep from being too disturbing by keeping things pretty cartoony and comical, for instance, in the third iteration, one of the melee weapons you can get is a giant purple, phallus shaped bat; it's veiny, and wobbles...

I'm sure if you meditate on the extreme crudity and tastelessness about that, you can see the dilemma. If you can just laugh and shake your head at things like that, you'll find an amazingly open world, with an unbelievable number of weapons and abilities for you to unlock to aid you in your campaign of crime.

While the jump from Saints Row 1 to 2 wasn't very drastic, they've actually changed things up quite a bit for the third iteration. It's become much more RPG like, now earning respect levels you up, and what level you are determines what perks you can afford. Perks would be things like, carrying more ammo for a type of weapon, reducing damage from bullets, increasing your maximum health, or boosting the stats/gear of your gang members. All of these perks cost money, you get money for doing the standard things, like missions, holding up stores, or activities, but you also buildup a revenue stream over time. Any store in the game can be bought to get a discount at that store, as well as an hourly cash dump. You can also buy properties that only offer the bonus of a cash dump, as well as whenever you complete an "Activity" you gain a little more revenue. Activities are various random jobs that are scattered about the city, returning activities are insurance fraud, where you jump in front of cars in order to rack up medical bills, and trafficking, where you defend a dealer while he makes his rounds delivering product.

In addition to your character upgrades, you can upgrade just about any weapon in the game, the baseball bat, when upgraded to level 2, looks more like a medieval maul than a piece of sporting equipment. Handguns can be upgraded to have bigger magazines, higher rates of fire, and incendiary rounds, every gun has different gains from upgrades, and a changed visual appearance. My favorite new weapon in the game is a laptop that you carry, which can be used to control predator changes, raining guided missiles down upon your enemies. The first time I used one to take out an assassination target, I almost choked from laughing too much at the absurdity of what I was doing. Then I went and bought more ammo for it.

Another change to the game is the tools in the arsenals of the gangs. It used to be that no matter how much you pissed off a gang, it just meant that they sent more and more goons after you, whereas getting more notoriety from the police would result in more advanced units and vehicles being sent after you. Now each of the gangs have their own special units, one gang has snipers that take shots at you from helicopters, another has girls on roller skates that move so fast they basically teleport, and fight using massive bladed hammers that send out shockwaves, the last gang has guys in flack jackets that carry rapid fire grenade launchers. The next step up from those guys is what the game calls "brutes" which are basically the Incredible Hulk, they're massive, and take a lot of killing. Brutes come in three flavors, ones that just run at you and smack you around, ones that carry massive chain guns, and ones with flamethrowers. After taking down any of these special units, you can pick up their weapon, all except the sniper rifles are just temporary, meaning you pick them up and carry them around, but as soon as you hop into a car, or try to pull out another weapon, you drop it. I can only hope that I'll eventually unlock some ability that will let me hang on to them in a more permanent fashion, because that shock hammer is amazing.

The story in Saints Row has always been ridiculous, but in such an insane over the top fashion that it's kind of amazing. The third game kicks off with the Third Street Saints becoming a media sensation after the first two games. They run a chain of stores that sell their clothing line, called Planet Saints, there's a branded energy drink called Saints Flo, and there's a movie coming up, and your first mission has the headlining actor tagging along on a bank robbery as research for his character. Of course things go wrong, and you end up in a new city where you don't already own everything, without a penny to your name, and have to build up your assets again.

I read that the engine for this game is completely new, and it looks incredible, but surprisingly a lot of the same weird glitches and bugs have made their way into the new game, especially in the coop mode, like I'll be driving the car, and all of the tires will be fine, but my partner will see all four tires as flat. Car damage seems to be consistently out of synch between us.

Speaking of coop, the coop mode is amazing fun, just having a friend that you can roll around the city in and do crazy stuff with is such an amazing feeling. It's kind of nitpicking, but there are a lot of things about it that make it feel just as tacked on as in the second game, which is weird since the coop mode requires a code to activate, free with new copies, but $10 if you buy it used. With that kind of push behind it, you'd think they would have reworked some of the cutscenes in order to acknowledge that there are two "bosses", or to let the radio be synched between us. It sounds stupid, but I really want to be able to drive around, and have my buddy cycle through the radio stations to find something worth listening to, or to be able to laugh at hearing the same commercial. Also having a shared resource pool would be great, why do we each have to buy each piece of property separately? Why do we get separate cash dumps? I guess that's the crux of what I find lacking in the coop mode. Even though we're working together, it feels like we're each playing our own game, with some minor points of collaboration.

All in all, it's been a great gameplay experience so far, I'm not that far, I think right now my completion rating is only 10% or so, and I've been playing for a really long time. I don't see myself changing my opinion on it by the time I finish, and aside from a few nitpicks, it's some of the most fun I've had playing a videogame.

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